July 16, 2011

Six-Pack: Malcolm Williams, NFL scouts, O-line ...

1. We'll start off with a little news.

Hearing that Malcolm Williams has not been active in 7-on-7 this summer and has been around the weight room only sporadically. We are not saying he is off the team or making any kind of conclusions about what his role will be come fall camp. We are only reporting what we are hearing from close sources about Malcolm's involvement this summer.

He did miss time in the spring for personal reasons and put on some weight and was working more as an inside receiver and H-back than as an outside receiver.

2. Talked to three NFL scouts in the past 24 hours. All of them have names on the Texas defense they are interested in watching this season.

The seniors are LB Keenan Robinson, LB Emmanuel Acho and DE Kheeston Randall. Alex Okafor has also made their list as a junior. Some are already making notes on DE Jackson Jeffcoat.

On offense, two of the scouts said no one has yet made their list.

But one scout had a very interesting note: "The one guy on offense who jumped out at me in practice this spring was No. 4 (Darius White). That kid has some really good, raw ability to go with his size. I'll be interested in watching his progress."

3. One of the scouts had some very interesting things to say about why Texas has missed on offensive linemen lately.

"Texas just isn't doing a very good job of evaluating talent," the scout said. "If you are going to commit them early, you have to be right on the money. You can't miss. And Texas has been missing with some of their early commitments."

The scout said Mack has to either do a better job of evaluating the talent himself or go out and hire guys who can do a better job of that. The scout said Nick Saban does a great job of surrounding himself with guys who are solid talent evaluators.

The scout took exception with Mack Brown repeatedly saying it was a coaching problem - not a talent problem - when discussing Texas' problems in 2010.

Mack changed out seven assistant coaches before getting Duane Akina back and ultimately changing out six assistant coaches.

"It was a coaching problem AND a talent problem," the scout said. "Now, do I think Texas will be much improved in 2011? Yes. Partly because I think the new energy on the coaching staff and in the strength and conditioning program (Bennie Wylie) will make a difference. That team last year started beating themselves from a loss of confidence without much leadership. That area should be improved with guys being a year older. But the bottom line is Texas always has players. Or at least they should always have players."

4. I've been told every job on the offensive line is open.

Think about that for a second. If what the coaches are telling the players on the O-line is true, then Texas doesn't really know who any of their starters will be on the line. That's not necessarily a bad thing because some guys could emerge and prove to be pleasant surprises. But it's probably a touch scary at the same time.

UT's situation up front happens to come as OU, Texas A&M, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Texas Tech and Baylor all have at least four starters back on the offensive line.

UT will have 15 practices to size all this up.

Who is playing left tackle? Is it Tray Allen? Trey Hopkins?

Who is the left guard?

Is David Snow the answer at center?

Mason Walters seems like a sure thing at right guard.

Is Paden Kelley the right tackle or could he be challenged by junior Luke Poehlmann, who is now working out after recovering from knee surgery?

The exciting thing about having every job open is the incentive in fall camp for players like Garrett Porter, Dominic Espinosa, Thomas Ashcraft and all the freshmen who just landed on campus (Marcus Hutchins, Garrett Greenlea, Josh Cochran, Sedrick Flowers and Taylor Doyle).

The scary thing is making sure the evaluation of every one of these guys is right on the money so the line grows and gets better every single practice.

We've talked about playing young players and living with their growing pains if they are going to be difference-makers in the near future. That's not always been the belief under Mack Brown. OK, almost never on the O-line.

Does that change with Stacy Searels and Bryan Harsin now on board?

All we know is the O-line has to get better in a hurry for Texas to be able to do the things an elite program should do, like run the ball in short yardage and goal-line situations and achieve some kind of balance. Last year, there were even false starts on the line from fifth-year seniors that helped kill drives.

Teams that are pass-first offenses or throw the ball to set up the run are teams that can't run the ball very well. That's been Texas since 2007.
I'm eagerly anticipating how Harsin's offense, by its structure (lots of pulling on the line and lots of unbalanced lines) can make a difference in the running game and achieving balance.

5. Can we talk about the Texas special teams for a moment?

How bad were the UT return teams last year?

Awful. The punt return unit had an 11.6 yards per return average but had turnovers against Rice, UCLA and Oklahoma. The muffs against UCLA and OU were huge. By the end of the season Adrian Phillips was earning the nickname "Fair Catch" Phillips because it seemed coaches weren't going to allow him to return a punt for fear of coughing it up.

And the Longhorns' 18.5-yard kick return average was the worst in the Mack Brown Era.

In 2009, Texas was No. 7 nationally in kick returns with a 26-yard average and three touchdowns. D.J. Monroe was No. 2 in the nation in kick returns in 2009 with a 33.6-yard average and two touchdowns. Marquise Goodwin had a huge kick return for a touchdown against A&M that helped ensure the victory. With both of those players back last season, Texas produced 18.5 yards per return and zero TDs.

Seriously? That's like voodoo stuff coming off the year Texas had in 2009 in the return game.

So it won't take much for the Longhorns to improve their return game in 2011. Monroe is back. And even with Marquise Goodwin redshirting this season while pursuing track, Texas should be fine in the return game with Darius White and Mike Davis as options along with Monroe.

And Quandre Diggs showed on a 17-yard punt return in the spring game that he might have a flair for that job.

The Longhorns also have to get back into the punt and field goal block business. Last year that part of the special teams was almost non-existent. A far cry from the days of Brian Robison blocking field goals and Michael Griffin and Aaron Williams blocking punts.

Again, it shouldn't take much for the special teams to get a whole lot better in 2011.

6. I'll wrap this up with some inspiring words from Anthony Robles, who was born without a right leg and hip bone and went on to win the 125-pound wrestling national title for Arizona State last season with a perfect 36-0 record.

Robles won the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance at the ESPYs Wednesday night and had eyes watering after his acceptance speech.

The story ESPN aired talked about how his mother didn't know whether to allow her son to compete in wrestling because other parents accused her of embarrassing her one-legged son by bringing him into athletic competition. But Anthony tore off his prosthetic leg at the age of 3 and vowed never to use it again. The rest is history.

Here is the poem he recited after winning his award:

"Every soul who comes to earth with a leg or two at birth,
must wrestle his opponents knowing it's not what is, it's what can be that measures worth.
Make it hard, just make it possible…and through the pain
I'll not complain.
My spirit is unconquerable -
Fearless I will face each foe, for I know I am capable.
I do not care what's probable,
Because through blood, sweat, and tears, I am unstoppable."

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